Brown Bears of Silver Salmon Creek, Alaska 2011 Trip Report

By Perry Conway on Aug 23, 2011

There is something about photographing bears at close range that can make your heart pound, your stomach tighten, the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and fill you with joy and wonder—all at the same time!  I knew we were preparing for just such an adventure when our group met in Anchorage the evening before our flight to Lake Clark National Park.  As we gathered for dinner everyone was already excited about the days ahead.

The next morning, we met our bush pilot at Lake Hood, loaded the plane, and flew about one hour west along the north side of Cook Inlet to our destination—the pristine beach at Silver Salmon Creek.  As you approach it is common to see bears grazing in the meadow, walking the shore, digging for clams or chasing fish through the surf.  Beach landings are always an adventure—bumpy, but very safe.  Our guides were there to greet us with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to transport us and our gear the half mile to our lodge.  After getting our room assignments, our first great home-cooked meal, and a short orientation about the local bears and photographing them safely, we were soon off again on our trusty ATVs.

That first afternoon shoot quickly gave us a foretaste of the exciting photography ahead!  In less than 15 minutes there were seven bears—two sows with cubs and one solitary adult—grazing on the lush green sedges and grasses right in front of us.  We were standing within 100 feet of one of the sows and her two black 30-pound cubs.  One participant whispered, “I can’t believe we’re getting this close!”

This Alaskan population of coastal grizzlies is called “brown bears”—larger and darker than the grizzlies that live in the interior.  Here, they have plenty to eat and are what we call “people neutral”—they definitely know we are there, but usually pay little attention to us.  Watching this icon of the American wilderness right in front of you—doing its natural behavior in a wilderness environment—overwhelms your senses and is always a major adrenaline rush!